Waterloo Casualties

Written by: Fonthill Media



Time to read 6 min

Waterloo Casualties

Waterloo Casualties is a fresh and illuminating perspective on arguably the most famous battle of the nineteenth century - the battle of Waterloo

  • Waterloo Casualties draws on newly discovered eyewitness accounts from Prussian sources to present new insights into the battle and new areas of combat

  • Studies the battle of Waterloo from the unexplored perspective of General Drouet d’Erlon, one of Napoleon’s key subordinates

  • Focuses on the lesser-known engagements between the French and Prussians, for which new archaeological evidence has been discovered

  • Examines death certificates issued for French officers and men on the day of the battle of Waterloo to suggest it was not the ‘bloodbath’ it is often thought to have been

  • The result of twenty years of research in archives in France and Germany

Many have sought reasons why Napoleon lost the great battle at Waterloo, seen by many as the most famous conflict of the nineteenth century.

Waterloo Casualties presents the litany of failures by one of Napoleon's key subordinates, General Drouet d'Erlon, which ultimately led to defeat, and explores for the first time what really happened at Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte, and on the French right wing as the Prussians closed in.

The actions between Papelotte and Frischermont were critical in the story of the battle, but have, so far, been seldom studied as no red-coated soldiers fought there. In Waterloo Casualties They come under scrutiny in Dawson's meticulous analysis.

8. Marbot’s Patrol

As d’Erlon remarked, French headquarters since 8 a.m. had been aware that the Prussians were heading to Waterloo. It was sensible precaution to send out patrols to assess the situation on the ground: it would allow an estimation of the strength of the Prussian force, its direction of travel, and likely time of arrival at Waterloo to be made. Domon had gone off at firstlight. In order to ascertain the threat posed by the Prussians, General Brue reports:

I had in the morning detached the 7th Hussars to keep in communication with General Domont, and I was placed on the extreme right of 1st Corps with the 3rd Chasseurs which consisted of three squadrons.

So, the 7th had, if we believe the brigade commander, been sent to link with Domon, so where was Domon? This confirms that Domon had headed off on patrol, and he was arguably somewhere towards Saint Lambert. What of Subervie? Where was he? Arguably, Domon and Suberbvie were strungout from Frichermont perhaps as far as Moustier. Général de Division Marie Joseph Raymond Delort, commander of 14th Division of General Milhaud’s 4th Cavalry Division, recalls:

At 11 o’clock in the morning were perceived in the direction of Saint-Lambert troops who were moving towards the left flank of the English Army. Our spirits were raised in hope. Were these troops emerging those of the detachment of Marshal Grouchy or were they the rear guard of the Prussian Army? However, we remained uncertain, a Prussian hussar carrying a dispatch to the English was made prisoner by the light cavalry that was posted between Wavre and Plancenoit, and said that the Corps of Bülow, a force of 30,000 men was coming. This Corps was intact Marbot’s Patrol 71and redoubtable as it had not taken part in their defeat at Ligny. Their advance was later confirmed by Generals Domon and Subervie, and their divisions of light cavalry moved forward immediately to their right.

Clearly, Domon and Subervie already in position on the French extremeright by the time the prisoner came in about 1 p.m. Delort’s time of 11 a.m.seems plausible as it corroborates Marbot of the 7th Hussars. For four regiments of light cavalry to be sent off on reconnaissance with artillery and infantry support shows that as the morning of the 18th wore on,Napoleon was becoming increasingly concerned about his right flank and the Prussians. What was he thinking? Was he convinced that the Prussians were heading north or was he already contemplating the inevitable that he faced both Wellington and Blücher?

Having not heard from Domon or Subervie—indeed, neither men write a single word about their involvement in the battle that can be found in archives or published formats—and no doubt increasingly worried about the Prussian threat to this right flank, more cavalry patrols were sent out. About his operations, Marbot, the dashing colonel of the 7th Hussars, recalls:

The 7th Hussars, of which I was colonel, was part of the Light Cavalry Division attached to the 1st Corps forming, June 18, the right wing of the Army that the Emperor commanded in person.

At the beginning of the action, about 11 o’clock, my regiment was detached from the division along with a light infantry battalion, which was placed under my command. These troops were established as are serve at the far right, behind Frischermont facing the Dyle.

Specific instructions were given to me from the Emperor by his aidede-camp, General Labédoyère, and an aide, that I cannot remember the name of, specified that I was to leave most of my troop always in view of the battlefield, and I was to take 200 infantry into the woods of Frischermont, established a squadron in Lasne, moving towards the positions at Saint-Lambert with another squadron, place half at Couture, and half at Beaumont, which were to send out reconnaissance patrols along the Dyle, and towards Moutiers Ottignies. The commanders of various detachments had to leave quarter of a mile between each outpost forming a contiguous string along on the battlefield, so that by means of hussars, galloping from one post to the other, the officers on reconnaissance might inform me quickly before they met the vanguard troops of Marshal Grouchy, who were to arrive on the side of the Dyle. I was finally ordered to send directly to the Emperor all the reconnaissance reports.

I executed the order that I was given, it would be impossible, after aperiod of 15 years, to determine which you ask for, the time at whichthe detachment arrived at Moutiers. Especially as captain Elon who commanded had been instructed by me to proceed in his march with the utmost caution, but noting that he started at 11 o’clock from the battlefield, and had not more than two miles to go, one must assume that he did so in two hours.3 Which would set his arrival in Moutiers at one o’clock. 

A note from Captain Elon that I was promptly handed from the intermediate stations, told me that he found no troops in Moutiers, nor at Ottignies, and the inhabitants assured him that the French left on the right bank of Dyle, were crossing the river in Limalette and Wavre.

I sent this letter to the Emperor with Captain Kounkn, acting as adjutant major, he returned accompanied by an aid, who said to me, from the Emperor, to keep the line at Moutiers, and to send an officer and detachment along the defile of St. Lambert, and to dispatch the various parties in the directions of Limale, Limalette and Wavre.

Photo from the book "Waterloo Casualties" published by Fonthill Media

Looking towards La Belle Alliance, middle foreground, and La Haie Sainte. This view from Wellington’s right shows the French positions taken up on the mid-morning of 18 June. The great chasm beyond La Belle Alliance is where the Brussels road is sunken into the surrounding landscape. This major obstacle caused problems for the retreating French on the night of 18 June. One can also see the excellent field of view from Wellington’s position and how the allied troops had chance to prepare themselves before the onslaught of the French cavalry charging up the slope. It was here too that the infantry of the Imperial Guard made the last attack at Waterloo to try and tip the battle in favour of the French.

Paul L Dawson is the author of "Waterloo Casualties"

Paul L. Dawson

Paul L. Dawson was born in Wakefield and is an archaeologist, historian and equestrian. He also holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Bradford and a post graduate degree in historical research from University of Leeds. Dawson has published over fifteen books both on local history and other diverse subjects such as equine nutrition and military history. Waterloo Casualties is his second book for Fonthill Media.

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This is a great book. I always wondered what the Prussian take was on the battle and there are books out there but this provides some intersecting insight through diaries and notes.

Mary Norman

I know Paul L. Dawson and this is on my list. The selection of books on Napoleon is impressive!

Michael Dunnigan

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